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SAE Paper 2002-01-3294

The Effects of Wing Aerodynamics on Race Vehicle Performance
Noah J. Mckay* and Ashok Gopalarathnam†
Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC 27695-7910
Copyright © 2002 Society of Automotive Engineers, Inc.

An analytical study is presented to determine the effects of wing aerodynamics on various racecar performance characteristics and on lap times for different types of tracks. The North Carolina State University (NCSU) Formula SAE car is used as the racing vehicle for this study. The study integrates design and analysis methods for airfoils and wings with performancesimulation methods for the racecar. Various performance parameters are considered to study in detail the effects on different portions of the track. A single wing is first used to examine the effects of aerodynamic downforce on car performance without considerations of the fore-and-aft location of the aerodynamic center of pressure. Subsequently a traditional dual-wing setup with a front and a rear wing is used to study the effect of downforce while satisfying a constraint on the location of the aerodynamic center of pressure. Three airfoils with systematic changes to the camber are used as candidates for the section shapes. Results are first presented for the racecar performance with the three airfoils during cornering, straight-line braking, and straight-line acceleration conditions. The effect on lap times for different track geometries is then presented for the single-wing configuration followed by the dual-wing configuration. The results for the singlewing case show that for a majority of the cases examined, the best performance occurs at the maximum-lift condition of the wing, indicating that the design goal is one of maximizing wing downforce. For a few track geometries, however, the results indicate that the optimum performance occurs when the wing is operating at less than the maximum-downforce condition. The loss in performance due to increase in drag associated with increasing the downforce beyond this optimum value outweighs the benefits of the additional downforce. The results for the dual-wing setup show that the range of possible operating points for the rear wing is considerably reduced by the constraint that the front-wing downforce has to balance the rear-wing downforce. The approach is suitable for the determination of the most-suitable wing for a given track. While the results in the paper focus on the NCSU 1 of 10

Formula SAE car, the methods, results and discussion are applicable to a variety of racing vehicles with wings.

The importance of aerodynamic down force for improved performance of racing vehicles is well known [1,2]. Mean lap times at all tracks continue to decrease as engineers become more familiar with the aerodynamic effects on car performance and learn how to use this knowledge to their advantage via computational studies [3,4] and windtunnel experiments [4]. There are usually several constraints on the generation of aerodynamic downforce on racecars. Some of the constraints are imposed by the race rules such as those that dictate the maximum size of the wings, the sizes of “box” constraints on the geometry of the airfoil shape, as well as the minimum height of the front wing from the ground. In addition, there are some practical constraints as well. In order to maintain desirable handling qualities, there is a definite constraint on the fore-and-aft location of the aerodynamic center of pressure (CP) for the car. Typically the CP needs to be located within a certain distance forward or behind the car center of gravity (CG) [1]. For a car with front and rear wings, the constraint on the location of the CP defines the front-to-rear aerodynamic balance for the downforce. As a result, the incidence of each of the wings needs to be adjusted to ensure the correct balance. Another consideration associated with increased downforce is the accompanying increase in aerodynamic drag. It is sometimes not clear as to whether the performance decrease due to the increased drag can outweigh the benefits of the downforce. This paper presents an approach to the analysis of the effects of wing downforce on racecar performance. The effects of the CP-location constraint for a dual wing configuration and the additional drag associated with the downforce are both taken into consideration. The effect of the downforce on the total lap-time performance is studied by examining the effect on three portions of the track: steady-state cornering, straight-line braking, and straight-line acceleration.

The chord in the single-wing case is 0.37 m. the approach has been applied to perform a systematic study of the effects of wings on the performance of the North Carolina State University (NCSU) Formula SAE car. The analytical approach developed in this paper is ideally suited to providing guidance in the design of wings for the NCSU Formula SAE car. The rules for the Formula SAE competition do not prescribe specific geometry constraints for the wings. The overall approach. The considerations of the fore-aft balance constraint are considered only for the dual-wing configuration. c = 0.52m2 Single-wing case Single wing dimensions: Span. resulting in equal total planform areas for both the single. and for this reason. Based on this observation. this race vehicle is chosen as the example for illustrating the results from the approach.76 m Area. Table 1: Wing dimensions for the single-wing and dual-wing configurations.37 m Chord. the methods used for airfoil design. Reference area. 2 of 10 . there is a broad range in shape and size of the wings. the span (b) of the wings is 1.38 m Area. The front and the rear wings in the dual-wing setup both have the same chord of 0.52 m2 Figure 2: Schematic representation of the dual-wing configuration. has a broader scope and is useful for other race vehicles with wings. it is not even clear if use of wings would have a clear benefit for cars in this competition.76 m. Among those that do use wings. straight-line acceleration and braking performance parameters.37 m Chord. For this competition.and dual-wing setups. c = 0. BASELINE GEOMETRY This section presents the baseline geometry for the wings used in this study. indicating that no clear optimum solution has been found for this design problem. the primary objective is to study the effect of the downforce without regard to the considerations of the fore-aft balance of the car. there has been a wide variation in the design concepts for all areas of the cars [5] since the first Formula SAE competition over two decades ago. b = 1. The contribution to the time taken for one lap on a given track geometry has been obtained by integrating the effects of the aerodynamics on cornering. As a result of the relatively few design constraints. however.In this paper. S = 0.38 m. outof-ground and in-ground-effect airfoil analysis. if wings are used for a car. The team has enjoyed much success in its efforts finishing 18th among over 100 teams and capturing the Rookie of the Year award for the most outstanding new team for the 1999-2000 season. fore-and-aft balance analysis and the effect of these aerodynamic characteristics on the NCSU SAE racecar performance are described. The NCSU team has competed twice in the Formula SAE competition sponsored by the Society of Automotive Engineers. Figures 1 and 2 show the single-wing and dual-wing concepts. b = 1. many teams have opted not to use wings. In all cases. Sref = 0. finite-wing analysis. METHODS OF APPROACH In this section.04 m2 Dual-wing case Front and rear wing dimensions: Span. For the single-wing configuration. respectively. Figure 1: Schematic representation of the singlewing configuration. S = 1.

the effect of the car on the wing flow field is neglected. The XFOIL code [8] for single-element airfoil analysis has been used for these out-of-ground effect analyses.AIRFOIL DESIGN FOR RACE CAR WINGS The design of airfoils for a particular application has to take into consideration the specific design requirements such as operating Reynolds and Mach numbers and design constraints such as geometry restrictions. Figure 4: Lift. the assumption allows estimation of the wing aerodynamic forces using just the finite-wing computations. 3. One of the ways to simulate the flow over a wing in ground effect is to model the flow past the wing and its mirror image below the ground. Figure 6 shows the characteristics of airfoil A at a height of 0. airfoil C has the highest maximum lift coefficient (CLmax). The profile-drag and lift characteristics as predicted for the three airfoils are compared in Fig. The flow over the wings can be considered incompressible. . there are no geometry constraints such as “rule boxes” imposed by the rules for the Formula SAE competition. 7. and the aerodynamic characteristics of airfoil A was obtained in ground effect over a range of angles of attack by analyzing each case in the presence of its mirror image. the MSES code does not converge beyond an alpha of 3 degrees (see Fig. 3 of 10 Figure 3: Geometries for the three airfoils. The MSES code [10] for multi-element airfoil viscous analyses was used for this purpose. Furthermore. As a result. REAR-WING AIRFOIL ANALYSIS The airfoil characteristics for the single-wing case and for the rear wing in the dual-wing configuration were obtained assuming that the wing operates out of ground effect. shown schematically in Fig. the emphasis is on prescribing the desired aerodynamic characteristics on the airfoil and the shape of the resulting airfoil is an outcome of the design process. While this is not true in general. 4. three airfoils with systematic changes to the lift range and camber have been designed using the PROFOIL [7] and MFOIL inverse airfoil design codes. it is assumed that the car body does not significantly influence the airfoil characteristics. and C are shown in Fig. and moment characteristics for the three airfoils. 6). Figure 5: Airfoil A modeled in MSES [10] with image for in-ground-effect analysis. Unlike the wings designed for racecars in the CART and Formula 1 series. FINITE WING EFFECTS Owing to the fact that the trailing vortices from the wing result in an induced flow on the wing. For the Formula SAE car wing design. In such an inverse design process. FRONT-WING AIRFOIL ANALYSIS The front-wing analysis needs to take the ground effect into consideration. B.000. 4. For the current study.3c above the ground. the flow over the suction side of the airfoil separates even at moderate angles of attack. The current effort draws on recent progress in the application of inverse airfoil design to high-lift racecar wings [3] and the design of low Reynolds number airfoils for other applications [6]. drag. In the current effort. The geometries for the three airfoils A. as shown in Fig. airfoil A has the least camber and airfoil C has the largest camber. As seen from Fig. the low operating speeds and the allowable chord lengths for the wing result in a chord Reynolds number of around 600. Such inverse design methods have proved to be successful [6] in reducing the adverse effects of laminar separation bubbles that may otherwise adversely dominate the aerodynamic behavior of airfoils operating at the low Reynolds numbers relevant for the current application. it is necessary to correct the airfoil data for finite-wing effects in order to correctly estimate the lift and drag on the wing. Because of the proximity to the ground and the resulting adverse pressure gradients. 5. As seen.

Lr Lf Figure 9: Free Body Diagram of Dual Wing System. The effect of the induced flow on the operating angle of attack of the airfoil has been discussed for CART-type wings in Ref. Figure 8: Wing CL-α curves for the three airfoils.and dual-wing setups was obtained using a vortex lattice method. Equation 1 shows the finite-wing relationship between 4 of 10 .3c. 8 for the three airfoils.the wing incidence iw. These three conditions are subsequently combined to obtain the lap time for a given track geometry. as shown in Fig. These areas are constant-radius cornering. The fore-aft balance equations. straight-line braking and straight-line acceleration. were derived by setting the moments of the aerodynamic loads about the CP to zero. These finite-wing corrections enable the determination of the CL-iw curve for the threedimensional wing for the out-of-ground-effect conditions. Local velocity Freestream velocity The conventional arrangement of wings on a race vehicle includes a front wing usually ahead of the front wheels and a rear wing located at or behind the rear axle centerline. shown in Eq. iw = α + CL πAR (1) FORE-AFT BALANCE ANALYSIS FOR DUAL-WING SETUP Figure 6: Aerodynamic characteristics of airfoil A at ground height of 0. In the current study. an assumption was made that the desired aerodynamic CP location is 0. wing lift coefficient CL and wing aspect ratio AR. 9. 3 for wings operating out of ground effect. X cp = Lr x r − L f x f − M f − M r L f + Lr (2) C Lr xr X cp = Sf S f cf Sr Sc − CL f x f − CM r xr r r − CM f x f S ref S ref S ref cref S ref cref (3) Sf S + C Lr r CL f S ref S ref CAR PERFORMANCE The methods for analysis of the performance gains and losses are presented for the three main areas most pertinent to the Formula SAE car. These curves are shown in Fig. The induced drag for both the single. The front wing in this arrangement is usually placed very near the ground plane in order to take advantage of the greater downforce that results from the ground effect. in which the front and rear wings were modeled in the presence of their mirror images below the ground plane. Figure 7: Schematic representation of the inducedflow effects on a finite wing.076m (3 inches) behind the car CG. 2 and 3.

13. Braking distance between two speeds. 4. like cornering velocity. shown in Eq. The basic opposing forces on a vehicle in pure cornering are the centrifugal force. and the other due to tire grip. 8.Constant-Radius Cornering The cornering performance of the car was obtained by assuming constant speed and constant radius during the maneuver. 11. as shown in Eq. The primary objective of the lap-time simulation was to determine the changes in the lap performance due to changes in the aerodynamics. 5 of 10 Straight-Line Braking Braking performance relates to the deceleration of a vehicle. with two straightline segments and two semi-circular segments. Acceleration time between two speeds is determined in this analysis. the straight-line braking. a1 is the acceleration of the car without wings. For a vehicle to be achieving maximum cornering these two forces must balance. shown in Eq. is a function of tire friction. and the friction force provided by the tires shown in Eq. the inertia force ma and the drag forces Dcar. and the straight-line acceleration. shown in Eq. to account for the increased normal force provided by the wings. Therefore a power balance is needed to find the available acceleration with the addition of a wing. 2 ( ) (9) These equations must balance. 6. With these assumptions and a basic free body diagram. 12. The two opposing forces during a braking event . shown in Eq. P = FV (11) Figure 10: Free Body Diagram for Constant-Radius Cornering. Vf mV Fc = r 2 s= (4) (5) W + 1 ρV 2 SC L Vi 2 m Straight-Line Acceleration ∫ µ ( VdV ) . is used as a measure of braking performance. In these equations. F = ma (8) F = µ W + 1 ρV 2 SC L . (10) F = µN Acceleration of a Formula SAE race car is typically determined by engine power rather than tire grip as there is excess friction force available throughout the majority of acceleration. 9. The opposing forces to acceleration are. and Dwing. shown in Eq. 1 ⎛ ⎞ F = µ⎜W + ρV 2SCL 2 ⎝ ⎠ (6) V (ma1 + Dcar ) = V ma 2 + Dcar + D wing Vf ( ) (12) t= Equating the centrifugal and friction forces and solving for velocity for the cornering. Figure 11 shows the assumed geometry of the simple track. a maximum cornering velocity could be found as a function of lift coefficient. 10. are the inertia force due to deceleration. 5. Figure 10 shows the wellknown free body diagram for the constant-radius cornering case. ⎛ 1 ρV 2 SC D _ tot Vi 2 a1 − ⎜ ⎜ m ⎝ ∫ dV ⎞ ⎟ ⎟ ⎠ (13) V = W m 1 − ρSC L rµ 2 (7) Performance For a Lap Using the methods for calculation of the car performance for the constant-radius cornering. assuming the vehicle to be a point mass. The friction force can be rewritten. The time required for acceleration from Vi to Vf is evaluated in the integral shown in Eq. 7. The power needed to accelerate a vehicle is shown in Eq. a simple laptime simulation model was created. This. The power for a vehicle with and without a wing is held constant and therefore the power balance between the two vehicles is shown in Eq.

Thus. 7 with the down force available from the airfoil/wing configuration under consideration. This plot demonstrates the compromise involved in the use of wing downforce. ρ = 1. the time required for acceleration can be found. 10 and 13 were used. airfoils with higher Clmax (airfoil C in this example) are better than those with lower Clmax. the cornering performance is not affected by the increase in drag. Atmospheric density. For these acceleration and deceleration conditions Eqs. Using this approach. straight-line braking.66 m/s2 for the acceleration of the car without the wing.86 m Rear wing location. Braking and cornering performance improve with increasing CL when compared to a vehicle with no wing. shown in Eq. This figure also shows that airfoils with higher Clmax are preferred. Acceleration time increases with increasing wing incidence as a result of the additional drag force of the wing. This acceleration time for 10 to 20 m/s is shown in figure 14. CAR PERFORMANCE FOR THE SINGLE-WING CASE Constant-Radius Cornering The maximum cornering velocity from Eq.2256 kg/m3 Mass. Straight-Line Braking The solution for the straight-line braking distance. where traction is not the limiting factor. acceleration performance. and C. the assumed values for the various parameters are shown in Table 2. 10 is shown in Fig. . It is seen that. This cornering speed was assumed to be the maximum-possible speed from Eq.A constant cornering speed Vturn was assumed for the cornering condition.66 m/s2 Table 2: Assumed values for parameters used in the performance simulation. will decrease due to the additional wing drag. F Radius achieved for a given cornering velocity. of friction. It must be noted that Vmax is not known a priori and needs to be solved to satisfy the requirement that the length of the straight-line segment is equal to that assumed for the track geometry under consideration. Because the cornering performance is limited by the available traction and not by the available engine power. In other words. B. m = 272. The results are first presented for the racecar performance with the three airfoils during cornering. 7 is presented in Figure 12 and shown as a function of wing incidence for the three airfoils A. Length. and straight-line acceleration conditions.3 kg = 1. At the start of the straight segment. On the other hand. the time for a single lap can be computed by integrating the times for the corners and the straight-line segments. This figure shows that it is possible to achieve a higher velocity with greater wing incidence. the car is assumed to accelerate from a velocity of Vturn to a maximum speed of Vmax. and then decelerate from Vmax back to Vturn at the start of the next corner.96 m Acceleration with no wing. a1 = 7. RESULTS For the results presented in this section. as can be expected. the approach allows the computation of the lap times for different airfoil/wing configurations. Straight-Line Acceleration Assuming a constant value of 7. xf = 0. Figure 11: Assumed track geometry for lap-time simulation. µ Front wing location. The effect on lap times for different track geometries is then presented for the single-wing configuration followed by the dual-wing configuration. 13 for deceleration from 20 to 10 m/s. This solution was done using the zerofinding function fzero in Matlab by assuming Vmax to be a variable.1 Coeff. xr = 0. the downforce allows a higher velocity to be achieved in a corner of a given radius or a smaller corner radius to be 6 of 10 Figure 12: Variation of corner speed with wing incidence for the three airfoils.

For the track with zero-length straight in Fig. Sref. but also the following additional information: (a) the track time for the car without a wing. it is seen that higher lift coefficients result in a decrease in the lap times. the performance of the car in a circular track is not affected by the drag of the wings. but different lengths for the straight segments. the total track time for one lap has been plotted as a function of the car CL. there is a tradeoff between benefits to the cornering and braking performance with increasing CL and the loss in acceleration due to the increased drag associated with higher CL. To compare the benefits to the car performance due to the downforce and the loss in the performance due to the added drag. The best lap-time performance for this track is achieved at the maximum possible CL which corresponds to the CLmax. indicated by a 7 of 10 . 15. Lap-time simulation (single-wing case) The lap-time simulation approach described earlier has been used to study the effect of varying the wing incidence with the airfoil C for different track geometries. Figure 13: Variation of braking distance with wing incidence for the three airfoils. 16—18 present not only the total track time as a function of car CL. 175. This result agrees well with the increase in corner speed with CL as seen from Fig. defined as the car downforce nondimensionalized by the reference area. Figures 15-18 show the results for straight-line lengths of 0. As the length of the straight-line segment increases. The different track geometries all have the same radius for the corners (35m). Figure 15: Single-wing lap time on a track with 35-m radius and 0-m straight length. poststall stall Figure 14: Acceleration time as a function of wing incidence for the three airfoils. 280. and 315m respectively. Figure 16: Single-wing lap time on a track with 35-m radius and 175-m straight length. 12. In all of these figures. Figs. Because the cornering performance is limited solely by the available traction and not by the available engine power.

this drag increase is less than that seen for the single-wing cases. Because of the small range of usable angles of attack for the airfoil when operating in ground effect. Figure 18: Single-wing lap time on a track with 35-m radius and 315-m straight length. It can be clearly seen that among the two contributions to wing drag. the total induced drag is less than that for the corresponding single-wing case because the downforce is split between two wings of the same span. 18). Figures 19—22 show the lap-time performance predictions for the dual-wing case on the four track geometries. the lap time decreases with increasing CL for the circular track. the available range of car CL for the dual-wing case is smaller than for the single-wing case. As the distance of the straight segment increases. However. Additionally. the dual-wing performance is similar to the corresponding single-wing performance. Furthermore. the induced drag contribution is by far larger than that due to profile drag. the effect of the induced-drag increase becomes more noticeable. the best car laptime performance occurs at a CL that is less than the maximum achievable CL. Figure 19: Dual-wing lap time on a track with 35-m radius and 0-m straight length. for tracks with large straight segments (Fig. The induced drag increases with increasing CL. When operating at CL higher than this optimum value. whereas the single-wing configuration did not take the fore-and-aft balance of the car into consideration. and (c) the track-time curve assuming that both the induced and profile drag were zero. Because of these reasons. As with the single-wing case. However. CAR PERFORMANCE FOR THE DUAL-WING CASE The performance of the car with the dual-wing setup is studied with airfoil C for the rear wing and airfoil A for the front wing in ground effect. the additional performance improvement with downforce increase is negated by the loss due to the increase in induced drag. In general.marker corresponding to zero CL. (b) the track time as a function of CL if the induced drag was assumed zero. the dual-wing setup corresponds to a configuration that is trimmed for good handling. Lap-time simulation (dual-wing case) poststall stall Figure 17: Single-wing lap time on a track with 35-m radius and 280-m straight length. 8 of 10 . on tracks with large straight-segment lengths the car spends a greater percentage of the lap time during the straightline acceleration.

1996. 9 of 10 .F. and Milliken D. the focus needs to be primarily on achieving high maximum lift even if that objective results in high profile drag. result in a reduced acceleration performance. The performance is similar to a comparable single-wing configuration. Race Car Vehicle Dynamics. however. SAE International. Warrendale. J. The results show that higher-lift airfoils are preferred for the cornering and braking conditions.CONCLUSIONS This paper presents results for understanding in detail the effects of wing aerodynamics on various racecar performance parameters. 1995. The paper also provides an approach that can be used in the selection of the most appropriate airfoils for racecar wings. The results are presented both for a single-wing configuration in which fore-and-aft balance of the car is ignored and a dual-wing configuration in which the important fore-and-aft balance is taken into consideration. and can reduce the design cycle time for race vehicles as well as the effort required to tune the wings for different tracks. PA. The attempts at reducing drag need to be spent on minimizing the induced drag. the best car performance is achieved at the highest possible downforce. While the results are presented for the Formula SAE car used as the example vehicle in this paper. Three performance parameters were studied in detail to determine their individual contributions to the total lap-time performance. 1. The results for the dual-wing setup show that the car can be balanced only in a small range of lift coefficients. 2. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS The authors wish to thank Mark Drela for the XFOIL and MSES codes used in this work. Figure 21: Dual-wing lap time on a track with 35-m radius and 280-m straight length. The study was performed by coupling methods for design and analysis of airfoils and wings with performance-simulation models for the car. In all cases. and detract from the benefits due to the downforce. Milliken W. For tracks that have more cornering and less straight-line segments. REFERENCES Figure 22: Dual-wing lap time on a track with 35-m radius and 315-m straight length. Robert Bently Publishers. For tracks with larger percentage of straight segments. The higher-lift airfoils. the methods and much of the discussion are valid for a larger range of racing vehicles with wings. This tradeoff in wing design is reflected in the lap-time performance depending on the track geometry. Cambridge. Figure 20: Dual-wing lap time on a track with 35-m radius and 175-m straight length. MA. the induced-drag effects are noticeable. Race Car Aerodynamics. This result points out that in the design of airfoils for race car wings. the effect of the airfoil profile drag is negligible when compared to the effect of induced drag. Katz.L. Three airfoils with systematic changes to the camber were considered..

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